[Reader-list] the Act of leisure

iram at sarai.net iram at sarai.net
Sat Nov 27 21:11:43 IST 2004

Dear Zainab and all,

Thanx for sharing your experiences/ observances of Delhi, Bangalore and
I guess as cities go, there are many similarities in all three except that
Delhi being the national capital can always cite security as a justified/
valid/ legal reason for many things.

Taha and I should have been more clear on what we mean when we use
categories such as private/ public and non formal spaces. I will take
recourse to the space of the New Friends Colony community center to clear 
my understanding of public/private space.

Can one really define public and private as clear-cut categories of space
and behaviour? How does one categorize private or deemed private behaviour
in public spaces? For example, kissing ones boyfriend in the parking lot
at CC or for that matter, public or deemed public behaviour in ones
private space. For example, a film star giving an interview to a news
channel while sitting in her drawing room would elicit a more formal
performance of behaviour.
I don’t think that I am in a position to give conclusive definitions of
what is private and public.

However, when I talk of public space with reference to the NFC Community
Centre, I mean the sidewalks, pavements, verandas, parking lots, streets,
subways, and squares etc. The inside of the shops, restaurants, bars,
cinema halls are private spaces because the right of admission is reserved
by the owner of the property or one is deterred by the presence of a
security guard. The public space of the verandas are taken over by the
restaurants and shops, the parking lot is leased out to private
contractors and all other spaces are meant to be used, to quote Richard
Sennet as `  areas to move through and not be in.’ So, one  will use the
pavement, sidewalk, veranda, square to move  from the  general store to
the  chemist to pizza hut to the cinema hall to the parking lot and vise-

The idea of sitting in front of Ego Thai [an upmarket restaurant] makes a
particular kind of individual, a nuisance, a vagabond, a potential
terrorist or an anti-social being.
To get back to the question of private and public space, I don’t know what
to call the space of the fountain in a small open area in the shape of a
square typical to many Community Centres in Delhi. It is owned by DDA. It
is not a private space owned by any of the surrounding shops and
restaurants. It is not a public space because a private security guard
controls movement of people. He will not allow certain kind of individual
to sit around and that includes anyone who is not a patron/potential
patron of the shop/ restaurant.  Public spaces, according to my
understanding were supposed to be spaces, that were open to all across
class, caste, race, religion and gender, hence the use of the term non-
formal space.

I agree that a public space such as a restaurant, cinema hall, etc needs
economic transaction to survive. But, are spaces where one need not have
coffee and sit or watch a film for free, totally out of `public’
imagination?  I’m still grappling with this one though. Besides, there is
Manisha.  She is eight years old and lives under the Okhla railway station
flyover. The NFC Community Centre is work and play space for her. She
collects garbage, begs and is a regular sight at CC.

Will Mc Donald’s- the family restaurant allow her to enter their
restaurant space if she wants to buy a seven-rupee ice cream cone? Does
the security guard, who I see as a non- State player in this game of `cops
and robbers’, not allow her to play in the veranda?

However, this discussion was initiated not because I wanted to solve
Manisha’s problem but because I was not allowed to sit in certain
`sacrosanct’ spaces in CC on many occasions.

Coming back to the idea of leisure and control, the popularity of games
like football, rugby etc in Europe after the passing of the Bank Holiday
Act 1871 indicates at the institutionalisation of certain kind of leisure
acts. `Publics’ would go out in large numbers, congregate at a space full
of `strangers’, watch/participate in `fun’ activities, eat, drink and head
home. But through all of this entry/exit would be restricted/monitored and
so would behaviour and announcements/advertisements would ask people to be
wary of strangers.

Appu Ghar, trade fairs, zoological gardens, resorts, parks, stadiums,
cinema halls etc. become such public spaces and the spaces of the streets,
roads, pavements, subways, and railway stations become carriers of people
though not all publics to these public spaces.

Some ideas that we are thinking about- Do we take leisure and the idea of
leisure as given? What are the normal/ accepted forms of leisure and who
defines them? Is leisure a performance of sorts?

looking forward to more views,


More information about the reader-list mailing list